The history of finance will not be complete without the mention of trailblazing insurance banker and real estate magnate Ernesta Procope, who triumphed over adversities faced by small minority-owned businesses in a white-owned space to implant of her insurance firm from Brooklyn to Wall Street, shattering glass ceilings.
Dubbed the “First Lady of Wall Street,” Ernesta Procope, founder of E.G. Bowman Co., the first Black-owned business on the boulevard of American finance Wall Street and the United States’ largest insurance agency owned by a Black woman, left an indelible legacy for the black community trying to empower them with insurance. A historic feat not just for African Americans but for the womenfolk.
In 1979, E. G. Bowman became the first African American-owned business to be located on Wall Street, before the move, the company, founded in 1953 was located in a majorly black Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant.
“Here was a Black company from Bedford-Stuyvesant coming to Wall Street — that was significant,” she said in a magazine interview. “It showed that we had entered the mainstream of the American economy, and it opened doors for other Blacks.”
From handling brokering policies for local small businesses and homeowners, landing her first major insurance account with the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, a community-development agency to working with many 500 companies and major clients like Pepsico Inc., U.S. Information Agency, American Express Co., Philip Morris Cos., Tiffany & Co., Avon Products Inc., and RJR Nabisco Inc.
To appeal to the major insurers which wasn’t going favorably to Bedford-Stuyvesant, Procope pulled off a strategic plan, hired limousines to bring down insurance executives from Manhattan so they could see Brooklyn in a more favorable light.
“They didn’t know that Bedford-Stuyvesant had substantial, middle-class homeowners, Blacks, and Whites, who needed and deserved coverage. They were shocked.” As quoted in her biography.
In 1956, the pioneer landed as cover as “New York’s lady builder,” the “first Negro woman to build homes in New York state.”
Ernesta Gertrude Foster, born Feb. 9, 1923, to Clarence and Elvira Lord Foster, immigrants from the West Indies, during her early childhood had nurtured dreams of taking on the music world as a pianist. At age 13, Procope performed at Carnegie Hall and attended New York’s High School of Music & Art, now part of the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts.
From music, she found her passion in real estate and insurance. She studied at the Pohs Institute of Insurance and Real Estate and earned her broker’s license. Following the death of her first husband, Albin Bowman in 1952, she founded E.G. Bowman in 1953, a private insurance company that offered insurance to the residents of the predominantly black citizens in Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York.
Procope racked up enviable achievements and attained great heights. She was instrumental in the development of the Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) legislation.
In 1972 Procope received the Woman of the Year Award from Pat Nixon, the First Lady of the United States. In 1993, was named by Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. In 2003, was inducted into the African American Hall of Fame and in 2006, she was named to the Minority Business Hall of Fame and Museum.
Procope, held the title of company chairman served on the boards of Chubb Group Inc., Cornell University and the New York Urban League, and she was a former chairman of the board of Adelphi University. She was also appointed by Gerald R. Ford special ambassador to Gambia. She was appointed by President Gerald Ford as a Special Ambassador to Gambia.
Procope was honoured with numerous honorary degrees and accolades including; Honorary Doctor of Laws degrees from Howard University, Adelphi University, and Marymount Manhattan, College, as well as a Doctor of Humane Letters from Morgan State University. She has received numerous awards.
Ernest Procope died on Nov. 30, 2021, at her home in Queens. She was 98.